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Final straw for German spy chief

Bonn - The head of Germany's foreign intelligence service resigned yesterday after his spies were embroiled in scandals over selling secrets for cash and a sting operation to catch plutonium smugglers.

The final straw for Konrad Porzner was the government's refusal to remove or retire two senior intelligence officials whose subordinates were believed to be involved in an embezzlement scandal.

The head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) had won a reputation as a stickler for the rules who failed to keep close tabs on his staff or to keep the BND out of the firing line, particularly in the plutonium smuggling affair.

Mr Porzner, 61, issued a terse statement saying the head of Helmut Kohl's chancellery, Friedrich Bohl, had refused his request to move or retire the two officials. "I have therefore asked that I should be placed in early retirement," he said.

As a career civil servant, this was in effect the only way he could resign. A government spokesman confirmed the request had been granted.

An informed source said BND staff were being investigated for embezzling more than 1m marks (pounds 450,000) intended to buy the services of Russian officers leaving former East Germany. The men were also believed to have sold information on the Russian military to a British secret agent - prompting Porzner to travel to London to express his annoyance.

Mr Porzner, a long-time member of parliament for the opposition Social Democrats, came under fire recently for refusing to let the BND investigate the mysterious disappearance of millions of marks stashed abroad by East Germany's ruling Communist Party, and now owed to the German state. He had already been undermined by accusations that the BND virtually lured smugglers into bringing lethal plutonium into the country on a passenger flight from Moscow in August 1994 in the hope of selling it.